Re-imagining Australia: Voices of Indigenous Australians of Filipino descent

ISBN 978-0-9923241-5-5Manila with 4 flags

Book by Deborah Ruiz Wall with Christine Choo, Keeaira Press 2016, AUD $30; Order from: Australian Indigenous Filipino Link, Deborah R. Wall, Teachers Mutual Bank, Account Name D R Wall, BSB 812 – 170, Account No 22036;

October Manila book launchBook launch & exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP); (L-R): Roma Puertollano, Patricia Davidson, Dr Deborah Ruiz-Wall OAM, Kevin Puertollano, Australian Ambassador, Amanda Gorely, Peter Sabatino, Josephine Petero-David & CEO of CCP, Dr Raul Sunico; Manila, October 2016

This book calls for a re-imagining of Australia by revisiting the history of its relations with its Indigenous inhabitants and Asian neighbours in remote parts of Northern and Western Australia during pre-Federation times.  The narrators of the book represent the historical links and deep people-to-people ties between the Philippines and Australia. We have compiled stories told by Australian Indigenous descendants of Filipino pearl divers in the nineteenth century.  Their stories, related several generations later, reveal more nuanced and diverse approaches to identity and demonstrate a more intimate connection between Indigenous Australians and Asians than is presently recognised.

Ambassador & Deb 1.jpgPhilippine Ambassador Minda Calaguian-Cruz with Dr Deborah Ruiz-Wall OAM at the book launch & exhibit, the National Film & Sound Archives in Canberra, 28 November 2016

Their stories dating from a period of global migration and trade were underpinned by intersections of colonial cultural assertion, foreign missionary endeavours, and early infrastructure economic development before British Australia and Spanish Philippines became independent nation states. Their forebears, then collectively called Manilamen during the pearling industry boom in the 1880s, faced challenges to obtaining equal rights with British subjects and securing stable employment and settlement.  Even after living in the country for decades, many were disenfranchised along with their Indigenous families and treated as ‘aliens’.

4) Severo & Emma picture.jpgManilaman, Severo Corpus & his Aboriginal wife, Emma Ngobing were married in Broome on 4 May 1898 by Spanish priest, Fr Nicholas Maria Emo

Indigenous and Asian people experienced the effects of laws that reinforced hierarchies based on race. These laws were indicative of the state’s effort to define and assert its sovereignty in times that marked Australia’s emergence into nationhood, gradually incorporating people entering the country from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Labour was scarce for the emerging pearling industry so some entrepreneurs engaged in blackbirding or kidnapping of Aboriginal workers and Pacific Islanders to fill their labour needs. This practice led to the passage of Pacific Islanders Protection Act 1872 – Imperial, Polynesian Labourers Act 1868 – Queensland, Pearlshell Fishing Regulation Act 1871, 1873. Western Australia prohibited the employment of Aboriginal women ostensively to protect them from gross abuses and to regulate the industry more closely. Work opportunities opened for Asian workers who were recruited from the British ports of Singapore, Hong Kong and Colombo. Foreign shipping interests also recruited other men at ports in the Philippines.

Laws that affected Australian Indigenous and Asian people and their childre

Aborigines Act 1905 WA (part 1).jpg

14. Certificate of Registration of Alien 1Manilaman pearldiver, Augustine Cadawas’ Certificate of Registration of Alien issued on Thursday Island on 27 June 1917

Nationality Act (Commonwealth) 192

A woman who married an ‘alien’ adopted the nationality of her spouse and therefore the families of Filipinos and other ‘aliens’ were deeply affected.

Native Administration Act (Aborigines Act Amendment Act) (WA) 1936 

It was unlawful for a non-Aboriginal to cohabit or have sexual intercourse with a native, or to solicit a native for the purpose of having sexual relations with that native. Aboriginal people were required to obtain the written permission of the Commissioner of Aborigines before they could marry.

Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act (WA) 1944

The acquisition of full rights of citizenship by Aboriginal person was provided under strict conditions which in effect dissolved associations with tribal family and required assimilation into White Australia. A holder of a Certificate of Citizenship is ‘deemed to be no longer a native or Aborigine’. (Amended 1950, 1951, 1958, 1964 and repealed in 1971)

Several Generations later

1) Mitch solo.jpgmitch torres is a descendant of a Filipino pearl diver, Catalino Torres, her great grandfather pearl diver who married Matilda Ida Tiolbadonga, a Jabirr Jabirr woman in Beagle Bay, 1898

  8) mitch - Jandamarra.jpgmitch torres (a Broome storyteller, director, writer, researcher, actor and documentary maker) shown [circa 2010-11] directing the award-winning film, Jandamarra’s War about an Aboriginal hero

Reflections through art

27. Denise Barry's pearl deep blue sea.jpgPearl Deep Blue Sea (Thursday Island, 2015): by artist, Denise Barry

Manilamen: the ‘Outsiders’ within

Bones lay buried forty fathoms deep,

oh, if only the turquoise ocean can speak!

The wizard wind carries lonesome melodies

echoing memories of the past hundred years —

of schooners, luggers, pearl shells,

and waves of settlers called Manilamen,

washed ashore in the Torres Strait and Broome.

Their descendants and offsprings

of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

with new arrivals on their trail,

sing songs that graft new tunes into old,

the ancient song lines, their tracks on rocks and soils

— mixed identities fused,

the red grainy soil stirs up old memories

that honour forebears who dived

into the depths of the continent’s soul

with black women divers who took the lead,

embracing mixed traditions.

The descendants’ gaze never quite turned away

from their roots, the distant islands of a dreamtime

from where once their ancestors sailed away.

by Deborah Ruiz-Wall

The colours of Broome.jpgThe colours of Broome: Photo by Deborah Ruiz-Wall


Manilamen: istranghero sa kalooban ng bansa

Damdamin ay nagising sa haplos ng kaluluwa

ng lahing itinangay ng agos sa Broome at Torres Strait.

Namumunong agos Pilipino’y lumitaw sa pampang

at dina bumalik sa pusod ng pinagmulan.

Dito na rin sila yumao, inilibing ang kanilang kayumangging alabok

na ngayo’y kasalimuha ng lupaing pula at karagatang bughaw

lupaing lubusan nilang inampon na wari’y

sariling lupaing magulang.

Sila’y Pilipinong ikinupkop ng kapalaran

at binigyang biyaya ng marami pang mga anak

ng katutubong Ostralyano.

O inang bayan!

Ang kanilang awit ay naririnig pa rin

kahit nakaraan ng mahigit na isang siglong

pagdating ng dalawa pang agos na nanggaling sa Pilipinas.

Tandaan n’yo, huwag kalimutan

ang ating mga ninunong sumisid sa karagatan

upang makamtan ang perlas ng kanluran—

nakamit nila’y panibagong kabuhayan.

Sila’y naging mangingisda, magsasaka,

naging katulong ng mga Kristyanong misyonaryo

na nagbukas ng mga bagong landas,

bagong kaalaman, bagong kanlurang

kinagisnan, bagong wikain, bagong kaisipang napulot

sa mga ibayong lupain.

Subalit anuman ang naghahari sa kalabasan,

sa kalooba’y tila perlas na patuloy ang ningning

ng pagmamahal sa tradisyong Pilipino

na itinanim sa panibagong lupain,

Tumatagos sa kaibuturan ang mga awit

na ibinubulong ng ating mga ninunong

huwag kalimutan magpakailanman

ang ating bayang pinagsimulan.

Tula ni Deborah Ruiz-Wall



Narrators from Broome: Kevin Puertollano, mitch torres, James Frederick Jahan, Miguel Castillon, Elsta Foy, Sally Bin Demin, Mary Manolis, Ellen Puertollano, Evelyn Masuda, Anthony Ozies, Magdalene Ybasco

Dampier map

Map of Broome, the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia (Illustration courtesy of Dee Hunt and Rebecca Ruiz, May 2016)


Narrators from Torres Strait: Peter Sabatino, Lilian Elarde Majid, Mary-Rose Hampson, Josie Cowley, Camila Sabatino, Mary Bin Juda, Patrick Mau, Regina Turner, Mario Sabatino, Josephine David Petero

Torres Strait

Map of Torres Strait (Illustration courtesy of Rebecca Ruiz, May 2016)

3. Lugger 'Kavite' (owned by zarcal)1.jpgLuggers are small vesels about 9-10 metres long used in the pearl-shell industry. Lugger ‘Kavite’ was owned by Manilaman pearl-diver, Heriberto Zarcal of Thursday Island (Photo: Tom McDonough)

4. layup at BroomeLay-up season is the period between November and March when pearling crews spent time ashore in Broome as it was the cyclone season (Photo: Tom McDonough)

The Authors

Deb book signing.jpgBook signing: Deborah Ruiz Wall (right) at the book launch & exhibit, the National Film & Sound Archives in Canberra, 2016

Dr Deborah Ruiz Wall OAM, PhD WSU, BA Journalism UP, BA Hons Sociology UOW, Grad Dip Education STC, Grad Dip Ministry SCD, Grad Cert Applied Aboriginal Studies Tranby Aboriginal College, is a Filipino Australian born in Manila. She worked as a journalist with the Philippine Broadcasting Service in 1970 and as Press Secretary for the Opposition Leader, Matthias Toliman and later for his successor, Sir Tei Abal in Papua New Guinea House of Assembly in 1973. She taught Communication and Social Sciences with the NSW Technical and Further Education from 1975-2004. In 2004, she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for contribution to the community in the areas of social justice, multiculturalism and reconciliation. Her completed oral history projects included Redfern Aboriginal stories and story sharing between Aboriginal and Filipino women in both inner city Sydney and Western Sydney. She began compiling the stories of Indigenous people of Filipino descent in Broome in 2008 and in Torres Strait in 2015.

Christine Choo.jpgDr Christine Choo speaking at the book launch in Broome at the St John of God Heritage Centre, September 2016

Dr Christine Choo, historian, social researcher and social worker, has a special interest in Western Australian history, particularly the contributions of Indigenous people, women, migrants, missions and minority groups, on which she has published. Christine’s doctoral thesis in History entitled, Aboriginal Women on Catholic Missions in the Kimberley, Western Australia, 1900 – 1950 was published as Mission Girls (2001). Christine is an Honorary Research Fellow of the University of Western Australia.


Manila breakfast 1.jpgManila breakfast (almusal): Courtesy of Flor ‘Margie’ Mclean’s kitchen, Makati (Metro Manila) 2016

Ambassador's message Kalatas  12:16.jpgKalatas, December 2016

Remarks at Australia Day 2017

Ambassador Amanda Goreley 2016Australian Ambassador to the Phillippines, H.E. Amanda Goreley

“…On this Australia Day, I would like to pay tribute to the first Filipinos who travelled to Australia, as far back as the 1880s to work in the fledgling pearl industry.  They were known as the Manilamen and until recently their history has not been very well documented.  I am pleased to say that this changed in 2016 with the publication of “Re-Imagining Australia” a fascinating social history by Deborah Ruiz Wall which has now been made into a documentary.

Many of the Manilamen married local Australian indigenous women and these blended families developed their own unique Filipino and indigenous cultural mix.  The Manilamen brought with them their strong tradition of gathering, of music and dancing and eating food together.  Some traditional Filipino dishes are still eaten in those parts and there are streets named after early Filipino settlers.

Descendants of the Manilamen visited the Philippines for the first time last year for the launch of the book.  They travelled back to the islands that their families originated from.  They experienced overwhelming feelings and a special sense of belonging.  The pilgrimage no doubt helped them to better understand their own identities as proud indigenous Australians with Filipino heritage.”

Certificate of Recognition: Cultural Diplomacy 2017

[in enhancing bilateral relations between the Philippines and Australia]


Pagbabalik [Homecoming Poem]

Deb writing poem Thurs Island1.jpgThursday Island 2015